|by Brent Harris • August 21, 2008|
A new coaching staff, 42 new freshmen, and series of new offensive and defensive sets and plays are all coming together at the annual Wabash football camp in Hillsboro.
"We're getting a good effort from everyone in practice," Head Coach Erik Raeburn said after a morning session involving the upperclassmen. "Outside of practice the older players are really getting to know the freshmen and are doing a great job of welcoming them to our team."
Part of the team's welcome included a morning trip through the ropes course for the freshmen at the Twin Lakes camp located four miles southwest of the Indiana town. While the freshmen swung from harnesses across a small ravine near their cabins, the rest of the team participated in the regular practice routine in helmets and shoulder pads. The roles reversed in the afternoon practice period before the entire team gathered for meetings and team-building exercises in the evening. The camp began Tuesday evening and concludes Friday night. (View photos of the camp activities and practice.)
Raeburn is in his ninth season as a head coach, coming to Wabash for the first year after eight successful seasons at Coe College in Iowa. His staff includes newcomers Josh Hoeg, Steve Rogers, Ashton Northern, and Drew Nystrom. Mike Warren ’93 and Adi Pynenberg ’07 are familiar fixtures around Wabash football, but are in their first seasons as assistant coaches for Raeburn. Pynenberg was a three-time All-American linebacker for the Little Giants and set the school's single season and career tackles record. Warren earned All-Conference honors as a defensive back for the Little Giants and served one season as an assistant coach after graduating in 1993.
Only Jake Gilbert ’98, Steve House, Willy Will, and Nate Powell ’09 return from last year's staff that helped the Little Giants to an 11-2 record and a trip to the final eight in the 2007 NCAA Division III football playoffs.
"We're picking up a lot of what Coach Raeburn and the rest of the staff have given us," senior Darryl Kennon said after Thursday's morning workout. "It's been a pretty smooth change.
"We're learning a lot of new terminology, but it's a lot of the same type of plays we already know. In a lot of ways it's like learning a foreign language."
The learning curve has been steep, and hasn't been error free, but the coaches are happy with the team's progression.
"There have been some mistakes," Raeburn said. "This is a new system for everyone. The older guys have seen a little of it in the spring, but it's almost as new for them as it is for the freshmen. Right now we're doing a lot of teaching and building some confidence in our play scheme. We want to play fast this year and we're working our way up to that."
Away from the gridiron, the players have been broken into small groups of nine or ten members, competing against each other in games and activities to incorporate the newcomers to the program in addition to developing team spirit.
"It's easier for the freshmen to get to know six or seven new guys in their particular group in the first few days than it is to meet 120 totally new members of the entire team," Kennon said. "The upperclassmen get a chance to talk to the freshmen and really get to know them, as well.
"We put the freshmen in positions to shine in the team competition — to do something in which they excel. Everyone sees them making a difference or being the person that helps the group win an event. It builds their confidence and helps ease them into the team."
Wabash will practice for three more weeks before traveling to Denison for the season-opening game on September 13.
Photos - (top left) Freshmen Martin Madrigal enjoys his trip across a ravine at the Twin Lakes camp. Madrigal and the rest of the newcomers to the 2008 Wabash football spent Thursday morning on the camp's ropes challenge course.
(Bottom right) Junior wide receiver Ryan Kerney heads downfield after making a catch during Thursday's practice at Twin Lakes.